The Preakness is more than a horse race

Saturday at Pimlico: Maryland racing's top event fills local coffers, unifies feuding industry for a day.

May 18, 2001

BRING ON the ersatz black-eyed Susans, the festive pre-race celebrations, the 100,000 good-time revelers and the nation's best 3-year-old thoroughbreds. Get ready for the 126th running of the Preakness Stakes.

Tomorrow, $1 million will be on the table for the top-finishing horses. And if Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos proves dominant in the Preakness, too, this huge horse will be just one race shy of a Triple Crown sweep, an elusive accomplishment that was last achieved 23 years ago.

This glorious day of racing not only is expected to have an economic impact of $54 million, it produces a welcome truce in the local racing wars.

As is often the case, various factions within the industry are at each others' throats, much to the dismay of state lawmakers. Legislators got so disgusted in early April that they refused to renew a $10 million purse supplement.

This money had allowed local tracks to stay competitive with nearby racetracks in Delaware and West Virginia that are heavily subsidized by slot machine revenue.

Now House Speaker Casper R. Taylor has asked the newly appointed chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, Louis J. Ulman, to try to end the disarray within the industry and produce "an acceptable plan by Nov. 1" for straightening out Maryland racing's problems.

That's no easy task. There's a history of deep distrust and a reluctance to take innovative risks. Perhaps the loss of the $10 million state supplement will change some stubborn attitudes.

Let's hope so. Maryland racing continues a long decline. It's not the popular "sport of kings" it was 50 years ago. The future of Pimlico could eventually be threatened. That would be a devastating blow for Baltimore and surrounding counties - and for Maryland's racing.

Racing is deeply ingrained in this state. It has helped preserve farmland and green space. It's part of our culture and an important part of our economy.

Perhaps tomorrow's running of the Preakness will signal that it's time for a new era of cooperation and unity among this state's bickering track owners, horsemen, breeders, regulators and politicians.

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